July 3, 2009

Twins & Pirates are currently connected at the hip

The Twins and Pirates have been linked together quite a bit in recent weeks.
  • Probably most notably (at least up to this point), the two teams are reported front-runners to ink the (believed) 16-year-old shortstop phenom Miguel Angel Sano. Sano has reportedly fielded offers from both teams but won't sign with any club until Major League Baseball is finished investigating his true age.
  • The two teams also faced each other in Interleague play for the first time since 2006. The Twins beat the Pirates two games to one.
  • And now, the Twins and Pirates are reportedly engaged in trade talks that would send Freddy Sanchez and possibly two relievers to the Twins for what can only be believed is a slew of prospects or young, cheap players in return.
The Twins have really never been considered "big buyers" at the trade deadline, but this could certainly begin to alter that perception. While Freddy Sanchez is far from a C.C. Sabathia or Manny Ramirez, but in Twins-terms, adding a player like Sanchez would be a monumental change from past years where they've generally sat silent and not gotten into bidding wars for players in which most are only considered two month rentals.

With Sanchez, that situation is somewhat different. Not only is the 31-year-old second baseman having one of the best years of his career, but he also has an option for next season, meaning he does have a little more value to his potential future team.

The Pirates have been a known seller this season with trades of Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan, which have rightfully upset many of the current Pittsburgh veterans. While players like Andrew McCutchen, Gorkys Hernandez and Lastings Milledge have potential, many of the older players are aware that they'll never see future success with the club as they're still in the middle of rebuilding the ball club. And while they've busted their rears for a ball club that is not focused on winning, it really rubs off the wrong way. That means players like Sanchez and relievers John Grabow and Matt Capps, who are all being linked to the Twins, are hearing speculation about being available while the Pirates undergo in a league-known fire sale.

Sanchez, as mentioned, is a 31-year-old second baseman. He has an option for the 2010 season that vests if he reaches 635 plate appearances, or 600 plate appearances with an All-Star appearances (which could happen as each team has one representative in the All-Star game, which I like to call the "Ken Harvey Rule"). The option is worth $8 million, which is probably a little more than the Twins would like to spend, but with contracts for Ayala, Joe Crede and (finally) Mike Lamb coming off the books, it's not out of the teams price range, especially as they move into Target Field.

One thing that separates Sanchez from other players that the Twins are usually linked to is that his career home/away splits are nearly identical.

Location     G      AB     AVG     OBP     SLG     2B     3B     HR    RBI
Home       347    1287    .310    .347    .427     90      9     14    143
Away 349 1292 .294 .330 .422 84 6 23 149

While those splits are close, another set of splits reveal something a bit different which isn't actually a bad thing.

Pitcher      G      AB     AVG     OBP     SLG     2B     3B     HR    RBI
Left       305     652    .356    .392    .506     47      6     13     80
Right 669 1927 .284 .320 .396 127 9 24 212

Despite being ninth in the Majors with a .279 average against southpaws, their .751 OPS ranks 16th. While Sanchez isn't going to really provide any sort of sustained power, placing him second in the order, wedged between several left-handed hitters, should pay off well for the Twins.

Sanchez, in my opinion, is compared to a rich-man's version of Brendan Harris. Although that comparison probably doesn't make sense on the surface, they are fairly similar players. Both provide adequate power while mainly making contributions with solid gap-power. Sanchez is better at making contact, but that's why I called him a "rich-man's version." Another comparison that I find to be a bit more consistent is their versatility. While Sanchez's primary position is second base, he has also logged considerable playing time at third base with some at shortstop. Harris' primary position is shortstop with considerable playing time at both third and second base as well.

Sanchez's defense probably will never win him a Gold Glove, but in comparison to what the Twins have had at second base this season (ie Alexi Casilla & Matt Tolbert mostly), his defense will be a huge upgrade.

The other players mentioned in the rumor are left-handed reliever John Grabow and current Pirates closer Matt Capps. On the season, Grabow is 3-0 with a 3.75 ERA in 35 appearances. With Sean Henn back in Rochester and Brian Duensing getting another chance at grasping a left-handed relief spot in the bullpen, the need for a stable second southpaw is evident. Capps has struggled for much of the year but has a career 3.27 ERA and at 25-years-old, he's under team control until 2012 which makes him less-likely to be moved. Grabow on the other hand is a free agent after the season but will likely qualify as a Type-B free agent, if not a Type-A. That and Twins' need for a second left-hander makes the thought adding Grabow more enticing.

There's no question that the bullpen and second base are still two areas of concern for the Twins, although the bullpen has vastly improved, the fact that the Twins are linked to the best second baseman and two good relievers may just be because it "seems right." While I think adding Sanchez, Grabow and/or Capps would be great, the price may be too much for the Twins to handle.

The Twins would probably be looking to trade Delmon Young, although the Pirates do have one position of strong depth in their system, and that is outfield. I don't think Young would be the best fit, but I'm sure if presented him, the Pirates probably would still take him. Alexi Casilla would probably be apart of the trade, as his services in Minnesota would no longer be needed with Sanchez aboard making available.

I'm sure the Pirates would be mostly looking to add pitching. Anthony Swarzak's name would probably be the first player the Pirates target, but I don't know if the Twins will trade him. Jesse Crain would make sense on the Twins behalf, but I don't know why the Pirates would want him. Another player I could see the Pirates asking for is Anthony Slama. Slama has been held back from some strange reason, and if the Twins aren't set on promoting a 25-year-old reliever to Triple-A yet, they probably would be open to trading him, despite his still-promising future.

The Twins aren't used to indulging themselves in the bidding wars of the trade deadline, at least not at this level, so the thought of trading such promising, young players as Swarzak, Slama and Casilla may not sit well with many, but it's probably what the Pirates would demand.

Thankfully, we're still nearly an entire month away from the actual day-of-the- deadline, so the Twins probably won't have as much competition for any of these players compared to if they waited even two weeks from now.

Like every rumor, especially those that pop-up in July, need to be taken with a grain of salt. While I believe that this could be a great move for the Twins, I'd still be surprised to see anything actually happen with this. For that reason, we just have to play the percentages in that probably 1% of all rumors never pan out. Not to say the teams aren't talking, but the art of working out a trade has so many loops and turns that it is very difficult to actually make both sides agree to everything. For that reason, the Twins' reluctance to generally trade any of their prospects and the high price of relievers (especially) and one of the best commodities involved in the trade, I'd be surprised to see this worked out.

I'll hope, but all that generally leaves is me upset and disappointed.